LARGO – Largo commissioners were nearly unanimous in their endorsement of the Greenlight Pinellas Plan Jan. 21, but some did wonder whether they had heard enough from those opposed to Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s plan to improve public transportation.
Commissioner Curtis Holmes, the sole vote against Largo’s resolution to endorse the plan, previously called for the opposition group, called No Tax for Tracks, to give a presentation to the commission. During the public hearing Jan. 21, Commissioner Robert Murray joined Holmes in that request, despite his “100 percent” support of Greenlight Pinellas.
“I think it’s going to pass. I think the PSTA has done their job. But I would like the opportunity for the opposition to come before us and give their point just for transparency,” he said.
Mayor Pat Gerard said she felt like she had all the information she needed to make a decision on the endorsement and encouraged residents to do their own research into the plan.
“I have no doubt that in the next 10 months, we’re going to hear more than we ever want to hear about this subject from every direction,” she said. “I don’t necessarily think we need to host that debate.”
The Greenlight Pinellas Plan would be funded through a 1 percent sales tax, if voters approve that increase during a November referendum. The plan calls for increased bus routes especially on nights and weekends, a future passenger rail and a plan for development that would support the increased transit.
In voicing their support for the endorsement, commissioners pointed out that only a few residents spoke out against the plan during the public hearing. No Tax for Tracks was holding a meeting that same evening.
Jeff Moakley, a Largo resident, said Americans were too impatient to wait “30 to 60 minutes on transfers” between buses and trains and weren’t likely to give up their cars.
“Let’s give our current roadway projects a chance,” he said. “Citizens are being taxed to death.”
Another opponent, Jim Lampe, said construction of a passenger rail would repel tourists while it was under construction.
“The government estimates aren’t as good as you would think,” he said. “Charlotte, Portland and all the cities that we say we have to be like have more congestion than we do without rail.”
Before passing the endorsement with a 6-1 vote, the commissioners did have some questions of Cassandra Borchers, PSTA’s chief development officer. The plan allowed PSTA to build up the bus routes first, along “every step that people are going to take and every part of their trip,” so a passenger rail could efficiently be added to that system, she said in response.
“We have a very small system for the size of the community that we are serving,” she added.
Commissioner Woody Brown asked why tourist traffic wasn’t a part of the plan.
“People that travel here should be able to get on public transit to get to where they need to get going,” he said.
Borchers agreed and said that tourists were very much a part of the plan, especially because tourists generate a third of the sales tax revenues. Supporting the tourist industry also had to help local hospitality workers get from their homes to their places of employment, she explained.
Holmes said he had “more problems with this thing than you can imagine.”
“I’m surprised it’s being pushed as hard as it’s being pushed,” he said, arguing that light rail systems in other parts of the country are plagued with cost overruns and problems.
Commissioner Michael Smith responded by pointing out that the Largo Commission’s endorsement allowed the voters to weigh in on the matter.
“Our roads are not working,” he said, adding that by the time road construction projects are complete, the expanded roads already are obsolete. “I think we need to think outside the box. I think this is a great opportunity.”
Responding to a neighborhood outcry last month regarding ongoing problems with the sanitary sewer system in the Kent Place subdivision, Assistant City Manager Michael Staffopoulos gave an update on the city’s investigation.
Engineering and environmental services staff met with the president of the Kent Place Property Owners’ Association Jan. 6 to better define the issues, he reported. Staff is working on a course of action to investigate, document and propose solutions for the neighborhood to be presented during the commission’s February work session.
The city’s comprehensive wet weather upgrade project didn’t include Kent Place because the area already met the water overflow threshold for predicable storms, Staffopoulos said.
“Under any storm event, I think we’ve done pretty good out there,” he said. “Maybe there is a problem … that we’re not aware of.”
Staff is looking into whether some issues were overlooked.
“It does sound like it’s going to be a very complicated repair of that area,” Murray said.